Samples – Illegitimate Theatre and Show Watcher

For a few short years, I worked as a staff writer for two now-defunct websites: Show Watcher and Illegitimate Theatre.

During that time I contributed a great deal of content to these sites (hopefully there is not a connection between the number of my articles and the sudden demise of both outlets), but sadly they were not archived when they were closed.

However, I kept a copy of much of my work and include it here, as samples. These are, as you will see, not all that current, but I hope to give you a flavour of my writing outside of my screenplays (to which I have devoted most of my subsequent time).

The majority of these works are reviews, but if you scroll to the bottom, you’ll find an obituary. Enjoy(?).

REVIEW: RAISED BY WOLVES

by Andrew Kevin Fawn

Co-written by sisters Caitlin and Caroline Moran and apparently loosely based on their own childhood, ‘Raised By Wolves’ takes us on a hilarious wild ride with an unorthodox family. I say unorthodox as opposed to the usual comedy trope of a dysfunctional family unit because for all their weirdness, this family somehow works.

That family are the Garry’s; mum Della (Rebekah Staton),  daughters Germaine and Aretha (Helen Monks and Alexa Davies respectively) and Yoko (Molly Risker) and the “Babbies” Wyatt, Mariah and Cher – though only the latter is actually a baby. There’s also Grampy (Philip Jackson) and his unseen, though often referenced wife. Dad has so far not been mentioned nor missed though that seems an intentional choice.

Our entry point into this set up is Germaine and Aretha, the two eldest siblings. There’s not a weak link in the cast and even the youngest performers seem blessed with God-given comedy timing but Monks and Davies are the heart of this show and both surely have glittering careers ahead of them.

As for their characters, in the main they seem wise beyond their years, telling local bullies that they will be on CCTV because George Orwell’s 1984 is entirely prescient.

That said, Germaine shows signs of naivety, mistaking one of the aforementioned bully’s theft of her scarf as akin to a knight taking a love token from a maiden fair. Her naivety and generally mischievous nature are in contrast to Aretha’s more caring and grown-up mindset.

As the series progresses, this becomes more of an ensembles piece, with Yoko’s burgeoning puberty, Wyatt’s lack of male role model and Grampy’s tempestuous marriage forming key storylines.

In terms of gags, the show combines pop culture references (when Yoko and the Babbies re-enact Britain’s Got Talent, one of the “judges” ask if she has any dead relatives), a smattering of slapstick and the occasional obscene joke, for instance when Germaine claims that if she made Country File it would all be about sex and she wouldn’t have to rename it, just change the spelling…

What makes the show so engaging is how recognisable everything is. We all had a sibling like (or at the very least had a friend with a sibling like), Germaine, who tells things like it is (or often isn’t) to younger children to frighten and/or confuse them when it comes to the facts of life. We all saw our Grandparents as someone who could help us out when we needed rescuing but didn’t want out Mum or Dad to know.

It’s true that Germaine and Aretha perhaps don’t quite talk like the children we were or knew – they’re more quirky, witty and culturally informed than anyone their age (though we’re not talking Dawson’s Creek levels of implausibly) and yes, they do look as though they’ve been dressed by Tim Burton and Zooey Deschanel having a styling kook-off, but it still all feels real.

Kudos also for writing something set in or near Wolverhampton (hence the title, which perhaps plays on the Romulus and Remus myth as well) that doesn’t alienate those not from the area. I’m all for local pride but this shouldn’t come in the form of inside jokes, and this is something Raised by Wolves avoids.

If there’s a minor quibble to be had, it’s the sense of time. The pop-culture references and the occasional appearance of modern technology tell us this is present day, but in terms of decor and perhaps even the colour palettes of the cinematography it has a slightly period feel (period as in ’70s/80s – not Jane Austen period), though again this may be deliberate. This could be any family, in any time.

Wherever and whenever they’re from though, they’re great company.

REVIEW: WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (FILM)

by Andrew Kevin Fawn

In this New Zealand set horror-comedy-mockumentary we meet four house-sharing vampires; Viago, Deacon, Vladislav and Petyr as they go about their nightly rituals of finding victims, managing their Familiars and arguing over whose turn it is to do the dishes. It’s a great premise but “What We Do In The Shadows” never quite fulfils its’ potential as a comedy or as a horror: it’s more chuckle- rather than laugh-out-loud funny, even if those chuckles run consistently through the film up to the end credits and beyond (because no film can ever finish at The End, there has to be a postscript once we’ve learnt who the Key Grip was). Nor is it ever truly scary unlike, say, “An American Werewolf in London” or of course, “Shaun of the Dead”. The mockumentary story-telling device is also sorely under-used; the vampires rarely reference the presence of the film crew, the crew rarely interact with them and have been supplied with crucifixes for their safety, eliminating any danger, so aside from a few brief to-camera interviews there isn’t that much point in making this seem like a documentary, other than the novelty value (or possibly for cost-saving).

What’s more, despite the seeming originality of the premise, it’s surprisingly derivative. I found myself being reminded of scenes and setups from other films and television shows throughout: the Werewolves that try (and ultimately fail) to control their animal instincts were just like the Sharks in “Finding Nemo”, a vampire putting newspapers down on the floor around an oblivious intended victim was something I’d seen Patrick Bateman do in “American Psycho”. Even the scenario itself -a supernatural house share- has been done before in the BBC Series, “Being Human”. It’s distracting to be taken out of the film every time you think, “That’s just like…” but whether that’s the fault of the film itself or my own wasted life spent in front of the telly is a matter of opinion.

This might all point to a negative impression of the film but it was an enjoyable experience, helped immeasurably by the easy chemistry between the cast and top comedic performances: special mention must go to Stu Rutherford, who gives a deadpan masterclass as a non-plussed human helping the vampires adjust to modern technology. Taika Waititi and Jermaine Clement (one half of “Flight of the Conchords”) share co-writer and co-director duties on this project as well as starring as Viago and Vladislav respectively. Waititi also directed Clement in a few episodes of “Conchords” and the feature “Eagle Vs Shark” and this film shares their slightly madcap sensibilities and semi-improvised feel.

Most of the humour derives from the clash of the supernatural and the mundane: from trying to get into nightclubs by asking Bouncer’s to invite them inside, to arguing over domestic duties and getting to grips with text messaging and Skyping with long-lost minions. There’s also a wonderfully tense scene in which the vampires use hypnosis to prevent two visiting Police Officers from noticing (amongst other things); Petyr’s huge stone crypt, the body of a murdered vampire slayer and two of the housemates flying halfway up the wall in the middle of a quarrel.

If it seems like I am describing scenes rather than jokes, that’s because “What We Do In The Shadows”, like many mockumentaries, relies on the situation rather than punchlines to get its’ laughs. It’s a shame though because a few “These go to eleven…” moments might have tipped this film over from a good comedy into a great one, but the closest we ever get to a memorable one-liner is an encounter with lycanthropes trying to better themselves, including minding their language, with the mantra; “We’re Werewolves, not swear-wolves.”

Ultimately the film feels something of a minor missed opportunity but “What We Do In The Shadows” is still well worth your time and funnier than most feature-length comedies, so seek it out. And while you’re doing that, check out Waititi’s previous effort “Boy”, a hilarious and touching comedy-drama that straddles it’s genres much more effectively.

REVIEW: THE REVOLUTION WILL BE TELEVISED

by Andrew Kevin Fawn

Celebrities work the red carpet, posing for pictures and answering inane questions, including some from a dorky-looking BBC Presenter with glasses. Suddenly, the Presenter turns the tables on the Celeb, asking them a surprising question which throws them off.

Sound familiar? No, it’s not Dennis Pennis, it’s Zam Zmith, an equally fictitious presenter, played by Jolyon Rubinstein (co-star and co-creator with Heydon Prowse of ‘The Revolution Will Be Televised’).

The contrast is in the type of question posed. Whereas Pennis mocked Demi Moore by asking if she would ever consider keeping her clothes on for a role, Zmith throws A-Listers like Samuel L. Jackson questions along the lines of, “Should the West assume an interventionist policy in North Korea?”

That, in a nutshell, is the difference between ‘The Revolution Will Be Televised’ and many similar prank shows that have followed, with an emphasis on Human Rights and Politics, although it has plenty in common with a few others (though more of that later).

That red carpet segment, entitled ‘BBCOMGWTF’ is one of the many regular sketches that form the core of ‘Revolution…’, other’s include ‘James and Barnaby’, a sort of fly-on-the-wall look at two fictional coalition odd-couple MP’s who attempt to get the public to agree with their often offensive ideas.

The similarly themed ‘Inside The Story’ follows a right-wing journalist, Dale Maily (get it?) as he tags along with EDL marches and Pro-Gun activists, often baiting them into agreeing with his outrageous remarks to expose their extreme viewpoints.

Other regular features include pranking companies such as Amazon by declaring their warehouses as sovereign Luxembourg territory and performing border checks on incoming staff (Amazon route their profits through Luxembourg to pay less tax) or installing a glass ceiling at the embassies of countries where women are marginalised and regarded as second class citizens.

Absolutely everything has a satirical edge to it and no one is safe, even The National Gallery comes in for a kicking for being sponsored by a company that, amongst other things, sells weapons.

It’s all cleverly done but it’s not altogether as funny as it could be. Of course, Human Rights are more important than making me laugh but this is billed as a comedy and I kept smirking rather than grinning and more often nodding and thinking to myself “oh, that’s a clever way to satirise that” or “I didn’t know that” rather than laughing out loud at the duo’s antics.

That’s in contrast to some of its’ obvious forebears, such as ‘Borat’, which made you laugh and then think. Laughter, at least for me, lingers longer in the memory and therefore the point it is making (in ‘Borat’s’ case: everyone, everywhere, is a hypocritical bigot of some kind) lingers longer also.

And ‘Have I Got News For You?’ has been shining a light on our ludicrous and cruel world for 25 years and counting via the medium of a panel show and remains one of the funniest programmes on British television.

What “Revolution…’ also shares with the aforementioned ‘Borat’ is the blurring of lines between fiction and reality.

On more than one occasion one wonders what is ‘real’ (insofar as actors portraying characters pranking the public can be ‘real’) and what isn’t.

For instance, during a ‘James and Barnaby’ segment, they are accosted by Caroline Lucas MP at Sussex University because they are “campaigning” in her constituency (apparently you have to ask permission for that). I sat there wondering if it the confrontation was real. Since later discovering that Rubinstein and Prowse both studied at that institution (hey, me too!) I began to harbour doubts.

It doesn’t especially matter if it is real or not but it shows how hard it was for me to be really invested or involved in any of it. And call me selfish and shallow, but I wish it had been more fun.

REVIEW: CHARLIE BROOKER’S WEEKLY WIPE

by Andrew Kevin Fawn

Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe is back, ushering in this still-young year with a healthy-ish dose of bile and pessimism.

For those not familiar with Brooker’s work, he is a columnist and broadcaster who has worked across a number of mediums. Satire is his bread and butter. A rather bitter, acerbic form of satire which is often hilarious and offensive, though in that way that it offends everyone and therefore no-one.

Weekly Wipe, now in its third series, is a continuation of his earlier Screenwipe and Newswipe programmes, which covered entertainment and news respectively. Weekly Wipe combines the two, though the emphasis is strongly on news, or rather, how the news is portrayed.

Very little is off-limits, with the events such as the Charlie Hebdo massacre and subsequent attacks in France up for grabs and Fox’s recent faux pas, claiming Paris and Birmingham have Muslim-only zones, were rightly ridiculed. Politicians get their just deserts also.

The show mostly consists of Brooker sat either behind a quasi news-desk or sat on a sofa in what may or may not be a set of a living room, introducing clips with ironic commentary and/or inserting humorous and surreal asides, for instance on the appointment of the first female Bishop in the Church of England:

“She’s called Libby Lane which sounds like a porn name but she’s not a pawn she’s a bishop which means she can now move diagonally.”

And on the election in Greece:

“Syriza’s logo looks a bit Microsoft Windows, which seems appropriate for a country that keeps crashing.”

It’s the sort of humour that might induce a wince but as ever with comedy, the key is in the timing and the delivery.

That Brooker never singles out one group or individual or another also helps. The right-wing media gets the brunt of it but the left too and bizarre news stories and the more ludicrous end of the light entertainment spectrum get short shrift in segments labelled The World of Bullshit.

It may seem that this is yet another mostly left-leaning well-educated snob taking easy shots at low-brow culture and rolling news, but even supposedly high-brow shows have to take their medicine, with the BBC’s critical darling Wolf Hall being dismissed as a less exciting version of Game of Thrones, “…set in super yesterday’s time, properly ages ago!”

That observation comes from regular character Philomena Cunk (played by Diane Morgan), who along with Barry Shitpeas (Al Campbell) represent or ridicule the great unwashed or ridicule the perception of the great unwashed in Weekly Wipe’s most surreal asides.

Cunk also appears in a regular sketch, Moments of Wonder, which mocks the sort of condescending documentary programmes broadcasters think our tiny brains can just about handle, breaking the fourth wall and interviewing -in character- featured experts who are often left bemused by her seeming ignorance and inability to understand metaphors.

Television and print media are not the only medium taken apart by Brooker. Bloggers and Vloggers (perish the thought!) get shredded in sketches, lambasting the self-righteous Youtube sensations who seem to think they can solve the world’s problems through trending twitter campaigns, hashtags and song. Although, Weekly Wipe is quite happy to employ real-life Youtube sensations such as Cassetteboy in order to poke fun at others, so if it works for Brooker’s satire, then you’re all-right by him.

That, in essence, sums up Brooker’s entire work to date, both in Weekly Wipe and all of his other creations. He operates on the grounds that everything, everywhere is shit. Unless it’s either written by Charlie Brooker or approved by Charlie Brooker. It’s his show though, so I guess that’s his prerogative.

KEITH HARRIS: OBITUARY

by Andrew Kevin Fawn

For children of the 1980s like myself and even children of the (very early) 1990s growing up in the UK, a piece of their childhood will have gone with the sad passing of ventriloquist Keith Harris, who died on Tuesday 28th April 2015 aged 67.

The mention of his name conjures up images of a green duck in a nappy who had aviation aspirations and a monkey with a grudge against the said duck.

To many, Harris and his creations, Orville The Duck and Cuddles The Monkey retain iconic status and bring warm back memories of a more innocent era for entertainment on television.

To younger audiences, however, Harris will best be known as a semi-regular on the reality TV circuit and latterly for a more “adult” update of his act, rebranded “Duck Off”, which toured student unions.

Harris’ career seemed to epitomise the changing fortunes of celebrity and the caprice of audiences (and telly bosses) tastes.

He began his career at a young age, appearing alongside his father and pretending to be a ventriloquist dummy himself. As he matured he broke out on his own and developed an act focused on animal ventriloquist dummies, appearing on variety shows.

This lead to his eponymous show, which ran from 1982 to 1990, along with appearances on The Royal Variety Show, numerous other TV appearances and a top 10 novelty song hit, though as time passed his popularity waned.

Battles with alcoholism followed. He was also declared bankrupt twice, something for which he blamed his dyslexia, claiming he signed contracts he couldn’t read.

After nearly a decade in the wilderness, Harris appeared in a documentary and on several reality shows and seemed to be back in the ascendancy, or at the very least out from the cold. Guest stints on shows and the aforementioned touring kept him busy and helped him become solvent again.

Sadly, Harris was diagnosed with cancer almost a year ago. Although he underwent treatment which seemed initially successful, the cancer returned earlier this year and he was informed there would be no chance of stopping it.

As well as being survived by his wife Sarah and their children and a child from a previous marriage, Keith Harris leaves behind fond memories for many of us.